No. 1011



From time to time on Memorial Day, our church choir is accompanied by the orchestra and sings the Military Medley, consisting of the official songs of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines. It is a very moving and stirring time as members of our congregation stand while the branch they served in is being sung and played. I served in the Army, and my only active duty was when President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard during the Little Rock School integration crisis.
I love them all, but my favorite is the U.S. Marines hymn. The first line goes, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” A lot of Americans today are unaware of the fact that more than 200 years ago, the United States had declared war on Islam, and Thomas Jefferson led the charge! Here is a little background just to let you know that today there is nothing new, except maybe the level of brutality, from what it was back in the 18th century.
Muslim pirates were the terror of the Mediterranean and a large area of the North Atlantic. They attacked every ship in sight and held the crews for exorbitant ransoms. Those taken hostage were subjected to barbaric treatment and wrote heart-breaking letters home, begging their government and family members to pay whatever the Mohammedan captors demanded. These extortionists of the high seas represented the Islamic nations of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers – collectively referred to as the Barbary Coast – and presented a dangerous and unprovoked threat to the new American Republic.
Before the Revolutionary War, U.S. merchant ships had been under the protection of Great Britain. When the U.S. declared its independence and entered into war, the ships of the United States were protected by France. However, once the war was won, America had to protect its own fleets. Beginning in 1784, 17 years before he would become president, Thomas Jefferson became America’s minister to France. That same year, the U.S. Congress sought to appease its Muslim adversaries by following in the footsteps of European nations who paid bribes to the Barbary States rather than engaging them in war. This should help all of us to understand why they are still trying to collect ransoms today. Since those eventful days, their ideology has not changed. Here is the sad truth: the payments in ransom and tribute reportedly amounted to more than 20 percent of the United States government annual revenues in 1800.
Shortly after Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as the third president of the United States in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli sent him a note demanding the immediate payment of $225,000 plus $25,000 a year for every year forthcoming. That changed everything. President Jefferson was disgusted and he let the Pasha know, in no uncertain terms, what he could do with his demand. The Pasha responded by cutting down the flagpole of the American consulate and declared war on the United States. Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers immediately followed suit. It was then that a strong naval force was born, and in short order our Navy turned the tables and taught the Muslim nations of the Barbary Coast a lesson they would not soon forget.
We are confronted with a much more serious threat today. The bravery of the U.S. Marine Corps in these wars led to the line, “to the shores of Tripoli” and the Marine Hymn. The Marines would forever be known as “leathernecks.”
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